The Beauty and Shame of Chambers Bay

Photo Aug 09, 5 32 19 PMIt’s both beautiful and hideous.

It’s both charming and maddening.

From a distance, it’s a stunningly beautiful postcard photo op everywhere you look.

From up close, on the greens, it’s one of the game’s great shames.

Welcome to Chambers Bay.

I was thrilled when the invitation came for me to join a group of national golf and travel journalists on a trip to the Seattle area to experience the wonderful resort and golf at Salish Cliffs Golf Club. This beautiful, scenic, challenging, personable setting delivered excellence in every possible way and will be the subject of a separate essay in the days ahead.

Along with our time at Salish Cliffs, the itinerary for the trip opened with 18 holes at Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 United States Open Championship. This was going to be fun. After all, teeing it up on a major championship venue doesn’t happen every day.

Photo Aug 09, 5 10 20 PMFinally – after a 5 a.m. alarm, 4-hour flight, and 45-minute drive (in style!) – we pulled onto the property at Chambers Bay. The anticipation had built to the point where fatigue was no longer part of my equation. I wanted to soak in the beauty of the venue. I wanted to get my eyes on this special place with the water they call a Sound, the model train that rubs shoulders with the course, and the elevation challenges you can’t quite appreciate when watching on TV.

I’m glad to say Chambers Bay delivered on all those visuals, even throwing in some bonuses along the way. It is truly a gorgeous place. The weather was perfect, the setting was stunning, and seafood chowder was among the best I’ve ever had. This was going to be a great afternoon.

Photo Aug 09, 3 12 33 PMThen, it was time to play. This is where the supermodel was exposed.

Let me explain.

I know I’m spoiled. Our entire group was treated to this round by the wonderfully kind and generous hosts from Salish Cliffs. I don’t take invitations like this lightly, and if someone else in my group finds some way to complain about the food, weather, course, or schedule I have on more than one occasion reminded them that we are guests and should enjoy the moment rather than whine. I have too many friends working real jobs to allow complaints into the mix.

This day, however, was different. All of us were thrilled to be there and aghast at the conditions of the playing surface.

Chambers Bay charged our hosts the full rack rate of somewhere over $300 per player. Add in a caddy fee (well worth it!) and visitors who choose to play Chambers Bay are in for over $400 before they decide which souvenirs to take home.

Photo Aug 09, 9 48 19 PMIt isn’t worth it. The greens are horrendous. I don’t mean “bumpy and slow.” I mean horrendous. Some are partially roped off. Others are bare. Two were redone and shaggy. Of the 18 putting surfaces, there were 15 different speeds.

It was a disaster on the greens and highway robbery for Chambers Bay to be charging full price.

Remember the player complaints from the Open in June? Many of us scolded the world’s best players for being spoiled babies. We told them to shut up and play. Toughen up. After having been there in person, I can now say those players were actually holding back and should be commended for reining in their comments. The greens are THAT bad.

Photo Aug 09, 10 42 43 PM

In all honesty, I didn’t play well at Chambers Bay, and the greens had little to do with that. It was just one of those days where my irons and I had considerable differences of opinion. The 9-mile walk (there are no carts) was actually quite pleasant and allowed time to converse with playing partners and a very affable young caddy. In other words, my afternoon at Chambers Bay was quite the conundrum. I was walking a breathtaking course on a perfect Sunday afternoon as the guest of fantastic resort. My playing partners were a joy to spend time with. The train even came right on schedule as we headed down the home stretch.

The management at Chambers Bay is not unaware of the course conditions. To their credit, they do offer a bit of caution to guests:

Dear Chambers Bay guest:

 As a result of 60 days of unseasonably warm weather, combined with the stress associated with the extreme agronomic practices required to prepare for the U.S. Open, the golf course is in a necessary period of recovery.

 Significant volumes of irrigation have been applied to the course, which is already beginning to return dormant fescue to a more conventional green hue. Areas on and around the putting greens on holes #1, 4 and 12, which suffered the most significant stress during the championship, are requiring intensive agronomic attention, including overseeding, fertilizing, hand watering and topdressing.  Every effort is being made to locate holes in the areas of best available turf on these putting greens

 We expect these conditions to persist at least until temperatures fall to a level more conducive to turf grass growth. Thank you for your understanding.


 Matt Allen
General Manager
Chambers Bay Golf Course

That note is an excellent step in the right direction. The next step is an adjustment to the pricing structure.

I hope you will go to Chambers Bay at some point. Everyone who loves the game needs to experience this venue – but until they lower the cost and/or fix the greens, you may be better served to bring a camera to Chambers Bay and leave the clubs in the car until you get to Salish Cliffs, where the conditions are impeccable and the course wonderful.

Check out my video overview of Chambers Bay!

One Response to “The Beauty and Shame of Chambers Bay”

  1. Keith Stone

    Wow Bill,you nailed it. I played Chambers Bay in mid-July on a perfect day. Beautiful views, trains rolling by and enjoyable caddies. From tee box to green I loved the course. Very challenging. But once on the greens…yuck! Like you I came away with a great appreciation of the tour players’ putting abilities. I don’t know how they made anything. Besides poor conditions the greens are severely undulated. Twice my caddy had me putt past the hole off a hillside back down to the hole. Both successfully! Crazy. Overall I’m very glad I played it but I certainly wouldn’t want to play there regularly no matter the cost.


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